VMI files response in lawsuit alleging hazing, judge grants motion to change venue

Digital Originals

LEXINGTON, Va. (WFXR) — A judge granted a change of venue in a suit alleging hazing at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), but denied a request to dismiss the case.

It’s a story we first brought you in January. John Doe, a former student at the school, brought a suit against VMI , the school superintendent, the commandant of cadets, and five former cadets for an incident alleged to have taken place at the school in January 2018.

At that time, according to the lawsuit, John Doe went to an upper class cadet’s barracks room with a John Doe 2 to complete a VMI tradition known as a rat mission.

“That began actually when VMI was founded. The cadets were dressed in gray. The students at Washington Lee came over and called them rats because they were dressed in gray and it’s existed since 1839,” Stewart MacInnis, VMI’s former director of communications and marketing, told WFXR in a February interview.

However, the suit alleges what happened next was less of an honorable tradition and instead, more similar to an instance of hazing. VMI filed a response denying several of the allegations and asking for the case to be dismissed.

In the response, VMI says once it learned of the incident, the school’s Assistant Title IX Coordinator notified VMI police. According to VMI, the school launched an immediate investigation and punished the individuals responsible. VMI also states that it followed all its official policies governing misconduct. It also says that John Doe did not immediately contact police, pursue criminal charges, or make an official complaint about the incident to any VMI official.

WFXR reached out to VMI’s current spokesperson who referred us to our original interview from February with MacInnis.

“We dispute some of the allegations, some of the conclusions that were made there and we will vigorously defend the institute in court,” MacInnis said at the time.

“We’re ready for the fight,” said Ryan Berry, one of the attorneys representing John Doe. “They profess to have respect for human rights, human dignity in their code of ethics, and yet, honorable citizen soldiers don’t go and torture their comrades.”

According to the suit, the two John Does were bound together with duct tape. One at a time, they were made to lay on their backs with a towel placed in their mouths and water poured on top of them until they gasped for air, the suit alleges.

“He was waterboarded, which is torture,” said Timothy Furin, an attorney also representing John Doe. He says the two John Does were ultimately told to wrestle for their freedom and only the winner of the match could leave the room.

“There are so many things wrong with that,” said Furin.

In a VMI Police incident report that was filed with the courts, John Doe details what he says he experienced. Other cadets who say they were there at the time of the incident were also interviewed by an investigator. One describes feeling “very uncomfortable throughout the entire incident” and according to the report, “has not slept well since the incident because he was sure that trouble would come from it”.

The same cadet also noted that neither of the John Does, referred to as rats in the incident report, appeared upset or frightened at any point during the incident.

The report also notes that one of the defendants named in the suit had pictures of the incident on a cell phone. According to the report, the photos were forwarded to the investigating officer and then deleted from the defendant’s phone in the officer’s presence.

VMI says policies against hazing are in place at the school, but attorneys for John Doe say those polices have not been enforced.

“The Officer of the Guard Association is the organization responsible for preventing hazing, for reporting hazing, and for implementing VMI’s policies and procedures. So one of the individuals, actually the key individual who orchestrated the entire event, was a member of the Officer of the Guard Association. So my client was being hazed by the individual who is responsible for preventing hazing at VMI,” said Furin.

John Doe is no longer attending VMI, but still wants to pursue a military career. He says he wants to see change at VMI so no other cadet will go through what he says he experienced.

WFXR reached out to each of the cadets mentioned in the suit, but has not heard back. In the ruling this week, the judge granted VMI’s request for a change of venue from Roanoke to Lynchburg.

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